Here's your hour-by-hour guide to Tuesday's elections


The moment we have all been waiting for is finally here. Instead of pouring over piles of polling data and arguing about sample bias we can finally start counting actual votes Tuesday night in the 2014 midterm elections.

With a number of races coming down to the wire—and Georgia and Louisiana quite likely going to runoffs—the counting could well stretch beyond Tuesday night into December or even January.

But it's also quite possible given recent polling showing voters deeply dissatisfied with the direction of the country and President Barack Obama's leadership that a Republican wave could develop, sweeping the party to the six seats it needs to take control of the Senate. Here is an hour-by-hour guide to what to watch for as the election returns start rolling in. (All times are in EST.)

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7:00 p.m.Polls close in Kentucky, Virginia and Georgia.

If GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell wins relatively easily in Kentucky, it will be a good early sign for Republicans. If his race remains too close to call for very long, it could be a sign that Democrats will have a better-than-expected night.

In Virginia, if Republican Ed Gillespie is within striking distance of incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, it would also be a strong sign of a GOP wave. When Warner started this race, it was viewed as nearly a lock to win re-election.

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Georgia is likely headed for a runoff between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue. It is one of two top targets for Democrats to pick off a seat, along with Kansas, where independent Greg Orman is favored. If it appears that Nunn is headed over the 50 percent threshold to win outright, it would be a huge boost to Democrats' chances to hold the Senate. If the race appears headed to a runoff, it would favor Republicans.

7:30 p.m.Polls close in West Virginia and North Carolina.

West Virginia is an almost certain pickup for Republicans. In North Carolina, incumbent Democratinc Sen. Kay Hagan has the slight edge over Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. If Tillis wins, then a GOP wave will be developing that will likely hand control of the Senate to Republicans and make it an early finish to the night. If Hagan holds on, Democrats will have a fighting chance to retain the Senate.

8:00 p.m.Polls close in New Hampshire and Michigan.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is favored to narrowly hold on to her seat over challenger and former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown. If Brown manages to win, it will be another sign that the night belongs to Republicans.

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9:00 p.m.Big set of poll closings in Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana and South Dakota.

Democrats will get a boost here if Orman, who is likely to caucus with them, defeats incumbent Republican Pat Roberts. In Colorado, Republicans have a solid shot to beat Democratic incumbent Mark Udall. If their nominee, Cory Gardner, wins, odds of a GOP Senate majority rise significantly. The GOP is almost certain to pick up the South Dakota seat. Louisiana is headed to a Dec. 6 runoff that will favor Republican Bill Cassidy over incumbent Mary Landrieu.

10:00 p.m.Montana and Iowa polls close.

Montana is one of three near locks for a GOP pickup, along with South Dakota and West Virginia. Iowa is another of the GOP's best chances with Joni Ernst maintaining a narrow advantage over Democrat Bruce Braley. If the GOP takes both here, the night is probably over.

1:00 a.m. WednesdayAlaska polls close.

If a GOP wave develops earlier in the night, this race may wind up being icing on the cake for the GOP to add another seat with Dan Sullivan taking out incumbent Mark Begich. If Democrats do better than expected and hold their own in marginal seats, then the Alaska result could be very meaningful.

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The problem is that Alaska is huge and sparsely populated and takes a long time to count, especially absentee ballots. A muddled set of results earlier in the night means we could be waiting a while on Alaska to finish counting and then still waiting on Louisiana and Georgia.

But if the GOP runs the table earlier in the night, you can safely hit the sack before Alaska even starts counting.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.